Saturday, July 13, 2024

11 Hobbies That Can Help You Live Longer — and Better

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Joyful senior woman dancing at a happy musical event with a senior playing guitar indoors at home
kckate16 /

Hobbies are part of what makes life fun. And some of them come with a major bonus: They just might lengthen your life.

Research shows that some hobbies have such a powerful influence on your well-being that they can add years — or even decades — to your time on earth.

Following are several hobbies that science says may increase or enhance your lifespan.

1. Tennis

Senior men playing tennis
sirtravelalot /

Tennis — and other racquet sports such as badminton, pickleball and racquetball — significantly reduce the risk of heart-related deaths, according to a 2022 study led by researchers at the National Cancer Institute. It was actually the most beneficial type of all the activities studied in that regard, beating out walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming and golf.

All of these activities “were similarly associated with lower risks of death” in general, however. So any aerobic activity you enjoy enough to stick with is likely beneficial, the study says. Many types of aerobic exercise cost little to nothing.

2. Gardening

Woman picking tomatoes in her garden
goodluz /

A green thumb can help grow your golden years. Several studies show that the physical activity of gardening — combined with being in a lush, green atmosphere — can enhance and extend life.

People in their 60s who garden lower their risk of developing dementia by 36%, according to one Australian study.

Dr. Bradley Willcox of the University of Hawaii notes that many residents in Okinawa — which has the world’s highest concentration of people who have reached age 100 — tend small personal gardens into old age.

And a Harvard University study found that women who live amid lush green vegetation have lower rates of mortality.

If you’re curious about gardening, check out “How to Start a Vegetable Garden (That Won’t Overwhelm You).”

3. Cooking

A senior couple cuts vegetables for a salad while cooking a meal in their kitchen
Prostock-studio /

Restaurant foods and processed goodies can wreck your health, contributing to life-shortening illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. By contrast, people who make meals from scratch are much more likely to eat more healthful fare.

The more often people cook at home each week, the higher they tend to score on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Eating Index, according to researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle. The researchers say:

“Home-cooked dinners were associated with greater dietary guideline compliance, without significant increase in food expenditures. By contrast, frequent eating out was associated with higher expenditures and lower compliance.”

4. Listening to music

Teen listening to music on headphones
Milica Nistoran /

A good melody can tickle the ear and add years to your lifespan. Patrick Fagan, a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, says regularly attending concerts can add years to your life. The study led by Fagan found that just 20 minutes of listening can boost your sense of well-being by up to 21%.

In particular, concert attendance boosts:

  • Feelings of self-worth by 25%
  • Feelings of closeness to others by 25%
  • Mental stimulation by 75%

The study concluded that such positive feelings can boost lifespan by up to nine years. In a news report, Fagan says:

“Our research showcases the profound impact gigs have on feelings of health, happiness and well-being — with regular attendance being the key.”

5. Volunteering

Happy volunteer
ESB Professional /

One of the best ways to do a little good for yourself is to help others. But only if your motives are pure.

A study published in the journal Health Psychology found that volunteering does indeed extend life — but with a strange caveat, according to the American Psychological Association:

“Volunteers lived longer than people who didn’t volunteer if they reported altruistic values or a desire for social connections as the main reasons for wanting to volunteer, according to the study. People who said they volunteered for their own personal satisfaction had the same mortality rate four years later as people who did not volunteer at all, according to the study.”

Researchers speculated that proper motivation is key to getting the most out of volunteering because it buffers volunteers from stressors — such as impingement on the volunteer’s time and lack of pay — associated with doing good works.

6. Walking

Senior couple walking outdoors
William Perugini /

The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other can have a profound impact on your health. Incredibly, those who take brisk walks might live up to 20 years longer than inveterate couch potatoes, according to a Mayo Clinic study.

Even better, the benefit is available to people regardless of their body mass index, which is a medical measure of weight that accounts for height. So you don’t have to be a Slim Jim or Skinny Minnie to reap the rewards of walking.

But you do have to put some effort into it: The researchers note that brisk walking — at least 3 miles per hour, or 100 steps a minute — is required to get the life-extending perks.

7. Owning a pet

Woman cuddling with her dog
SeventyFour /

Few bonds are as strong as those that bind owners to their beloved pets. A raft of research has found that these owners enjoy many health benefits from being around their furry friends.

For example, a meta-analysis of studies published between 1950 and 2019 found that dog owners had a 24% risk reduction for death from any cause.

The benefit is even more pronounced for people who have existing heart problems. The study authors believe walking a dog — and getting a little extra exercise — may play a big role in these improved health outcomes.

A separate study in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology found that people who own cats have a reduced risk of death from heart attack or stroke.

8. Dancing

Family dancing at home
fizkes /

It’s probably no surprise that dancing is a great form of exercise that can boost your heart and lungs, helping you to live longer and be in better health than otherwise might be the case. Research also has found that dancing can reduce levels of stress and boost serotonin levels, which makes you feel better.

But here’s something a little more surprising: Research has found that those age 75 or older who dance regularly have a lower risk of deadly illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

In fact, one study — which looked at a range of physical activities, including biking, swimming, participating in group exercise and more — concluded that “dancing was the only physical activity associated with a lower risk of dementia.”

9. Yoga

Older couple practicing yoga
wavebreakmedia /

Research has tied a slew of health benefits to practicing yoga. Some of these are well-known, such as yoga’s ability to improve your sense of balance, reduce stress, boost mental and emotional health, and promote better sleep.

But the National Institutes of Health says yoga also offers some less expected benefits, such as helping its practitioners to lose weight and quit smoking — lifestyle changes that can add years to your lifespan.

10. Meditation

chainarong06 /

Spending a little time in quiet meditation might lengthen your life. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that people older than age 55 with hypertension who engaged in transcendental meditation (TM) reduced overall mortality by 23% over an average period of 7.6 years.

Death by cardiovascular disease among study subjects dropped by 30% and cancer death fell by 49%.

The researchers concluded:

“These results suggest that a specific stress-decreasing approach used in the prevention and control of high blood pressure, such as the TM program, may contribute to decreased mortality from all causes and cardiovascular disease in older subjects who have systemic hypertension.”

11. Reading

Woman drinking tea and reading a book
MinDof /

Stress is a major source of health problems that shorten lives. But simply picking up a book and escaping into another world can reduce stress levels by 68%, according to a study out of the University of Sussex in England.

It takes just six minutes for reading to begin working its magic, according to the research. Why is reading so effective in soothing your nerves? According to one report detailing the researchers’ findings:

“Psychologists say this is because the human mind has to concentrate on reading and the distraction eases the tensions in muscles and the heart.”

If you’re looking for your next read but have a tight budget, check out “9 Sites That Offer Free E-Books.”

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